Broadband in every home
a must, says SFI

5 Nov 2003

Broadband networks with bandwidth of at least 10MB should be plumbed into every home within 10 years if Ireland is not to be at a competitive disadvantage to other economies, a top government scientist has warned.

Dr Alastair Glass, head of the ICT division at Science Foundation Ireland (SFI), told journalists at a briefing at SFI’s Dublin headquarters yesterday: “A hundred years ago, people were saying that not every home needed electricity but look at how things turned out. Ireland should be at the leading edge when it comes to broadband. The Koreans have already rolled out broadband, with good results.”

Glass, who also sits on the broadband committee headed by the Department of Communications’ technology guru Brendan Tuohy, looked forward to the completion of the Government’s 19-town fibre network rollout next spring when “industrial parks and schools” would be connected by the high-speed system. Sounding a note of caution however, he said that the network would only be useful if the technology community developed the applications and services to take full advantage of it. “The infrastructure is not where the value is; the value lies in the applications. The gaming application is the one people always talk about but I hope it’s not the only one!”

Funded by the National Development Plan to the tune of €646m, the SFI is currently investing in a range of projects within third-level institutions around the country with the aim of building a world-class research and development (R&D) infrastructure. A top priority, said Glass, was to build stronger links with industry, in particular the multinational sector, in order to encourage more companies to invest in R&D operations here. This aspiration was shared, he claimed, by the heads of many multinationals in Ireland who, faced with competition from lower-cost economies, were looking for ways to secure their future.

“All the managers of the companies want to embed their companies here and move up the value chain. We’ve got very strong support from all the multinationals to build a R&D infrastructure here,” claimed Glass.

To secure this investment for Ireland rather than some other country, however, it would probably be necessary to offer tax credits to multinationals in the same way other countries are beginning to, he felt. However, financial incentives alone will not be enough: having the right skills – particularly a pool of talented PhDs – is essential if multinationals are to increase their R&D spend.

“The way multinationals evolve is through thought leadership. A lot of them are thinking about developing new products and will want to find good PhDs to help them do that,” said Glass. While Ireland has an international reputation for the quality of its science and engineering graduates, there are not yet enough seasoned PhDs available, a situation that SFI was working hard to change, he said.

Glass also gave an update on the SFI’s programme to develop a series of clusters in areas identified as having strategic importance. Several clusters have recently received funding, one of which is the Adaptive Information Cluster (AIC), a partnership between the National Centre for Sensor Research at Dublin City University (DCU), the Smart Media Institute at University College Dublin (UCD) and the Centre for Digital Video Processing at DCU that was awarded funding of over €5.5m over four years.

At the briefing, professor Mark Keane of UCD’s Computer Science Department outlined the role of the AIC as “capturing the world digitally in a comprehensible way”. He added: “Things have got so complex in computing systems that you don’t know what’s going on inside. In the coming years the whole range of computing devices is going to increase and [tiny microprocessors known as] ‘smart dust’ will generate even more information that will need to be labelled in some way.”

The AIC is supported by a number of industry partners including IBM and Ericsson and recently embarked on a project to help the Environmental Protection Agency gather, interpret and deliver environmental information.

Other cluster opportunities identified by the SFI include grid computing, biometrics/e-security and nanotechnology.

By Brian Skelly